Burn out, depression, and me. Changes had to be made.
When I tell them that I’m doing fine
Watchin’ shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time, boy?
You’re no longer on the ball
I’m just sittin’ hereJohn Lennon
Watchin’ the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer ridin’ on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
This is a rare non-photography related post. I didn’t want to talk about this while promoting a photo session with someone else so I kept putting it off. But I didn’t want it to be photo-free (Let’s be honest, most people come here for the images) so I’m including some images from a recent walk-about I did at Colonial Williamsburg.
Let me just start out with the fact that I’m doing much better now, ok? Good.
Last fall, around this time, I hit a wall mentally and physically. Lots of thing of things were going on health-wise. Finances were starting to take a hit but the biggest thing was that I was crazy busy at work.
I’ve never talked about this before here but I have a full-time job as a photographer at NASA Langley.
It is THE dream job as it combines my passion for science, history, and photography. It is the biggest reason why I left the paradise of Clearwater, Florida. I can be documenting a crash test of a spacecraft or or other tests today and photograph a guest speaker during a workshop tomorrow. I never do the same thing twice and I’m out shooting every day.
But it takes a lot out of me creatively and physically. Back then, and now, I’ve been putting in 10+ hours at work this time of year. It is, what we call, the Silly Season as we are so busy now until the Holidays. 6 am starts, 6 pm finishes. Sometimes we do both on the same days.
So, you can see why I’m not exactly raring to get behind my own computer at home to edit my images after a day of doing the same at work or get behind the camera every weekend.
But that’s exactly what I tried to do for several years. Some times it worked. Most of the time it took a toll. Gradually, over time, I lost joy in what I was doing in my personal life in order to maintain 100% at work. I would “take a break” which was code for just drop everything I was doing in my personal life. No shoots, no going out, no socializing. Just sit on the couch after work with nothing on but the tv until it was bedtime.
The personal photo sessions on the weekends ended in September 2021 as I just didn’t have anything left in me to give.
I was well on my way down this time last year and it was a bad one. The straw that broke my back was when I had to say good-bye to my beloved puppers, Oscar.
A few weeks after that I realized that I was in a bad spot and I needed help. It was time to break the cycle and I would need help doing it.
It was a multi-faceted approach. I started to see a therapist. She helped me identify potholes to avoid in my path and taught me coping skills to ease the pressure.
I also began to take an anti-depressant which helped level the highs and lows and balance me out. This was crucial in the process. As the journey continues, and I find a natural balance, the goal is to phase out the med.
The biggest part, however, was learning the value of personal time built into the schedule as opposed to waiting until it became unbearable resulting in me burning out and crashing. During this time I began a journey of exploration. I took small trips, explored the local scene, tried new hobbies, tried new eateries, while also returning to things that I used to enjoy but fell to the wayside like going to the movies, read again, meeting up with friends, writing, and such.
The thing that took me by surprise finding out I had a knack for decorating. I took this new-found passion and re-did the apartment and my office to better reflect me. I always had a bug for antiquing and thrifting so this took it to the next level. Step one was getting rid of things I’d been lugging around for a decade or longer that no longer reflected who I currently was. Boxes upon boxes of stuff were removed to make space for new things. That alone lifted my spirits.
It’s amazing how much stuff we carry from the past, mentally and physically, around with us. You gotta clean house evert once in a while.
I also expanded to lighting and designing for the seasons. Friends began to ask me to keep an eye out for items they were looking for and trusted my judgement to buy if they were found.
The results were spaces that allowed me to relax and feal more at home with. It’s scary to realize that I didn’t have a single thing on my walls for years. The rooms were barren of personality. They were all function – no form. No personality.
My office now as plants, a lava lamp, a salt rock and a vintage chaise lounge with a blanket, a pillow and a Dr. Suess book. There is an X-Wing model, several Enterprises and other science fiction ships hanging from my ceiling.
I took what I initially thought would be a short break from weekend sessions that ended up being nine months long. At one point I thought my weekend warrior days were over. And I was ok with it. I was still scratching my creative itch at work so all was good there.
My mental and physical reserves continued to fill up. The workload was building up but I was handling it well. A few curveballs came down the pipe and I used my new skills and thought patterns to use and got around them.
Eventually I began to say yes to offers to collaborate. Nothing stressful and always with friends. I limited them to once or twice a month – always keeping at least two full weekends a month free for myself.
I’m not going to lie – I was more than rusty. But I had a blast. Things came back, thanks mostly to muscle memory. “Oh yeah, that’s how its supposed to go”. And then the Dopamine kicked in. Oh, that was nice.
The joy was back.
And then the questions started. “Are you back?” You going to start booking regular sessions again?” “What are your rates?”
My answer is “Sorta”. Changes had to be made and, if I wanted to continue forward, more changes have to be made. I’ll be available to shoot once or twice a month. If it doesn’t spark my interest or challenge me, it will be a pass from me.
Most importantly, I’ve given up any attempt to maintain a regular social media presence. When I broke down how many hours I spent doing various things, I realized I spent as large time maintaining various pages on various social media platforms that really didn’t bring much returns.
So that whole shoot two or three times a week, post on IG before noon on Thursday, post on twitter on this date, gotta blog every week, how the hell do I a do a tiktok video on photography, now I gotta learn how to work the new platform of the week, keywording, etc. All of it’s gone.
You will still see me on IG, Twitter and the page but nothing regular. Shoots on only four days a month. But Mark, they say, you’re going to miss out on blah, blah, blah. And my response is “So?”.
Cutting all that out frees up a lot of physical time, stress, and anxiety. All positives in my book. Will some see my causal approach as something less than professional photographer? Probably. But there’s also something to be said about those that get one of those open spots.
It’s a fact that most people only last about five years in a service-based business. I’ve been at it for almost 35 years now. Making these changes should allow me to continue on, in a much better mental and physical place, for years to come.
For those that are struggling, I beg of you to reach out and get help. There is no “It’ll go away in time” or “I can fix this on my own” or “quick fix” solutions. It is a very proactive process and you need help navigating through it. You can’t expect change without making changes mentally and physically. Friends are good but professional help is the key.
I am, by no means, an expert but I am here for support. I have no problem talking about my struggles and ongoing process to recover. I’m all for getting out of the house for a coffee and a chat. Maybe we can even do some antiquing or go on a photo safari :-).
Just know I’m here for you in any way you need.